BY TOM HESTER SR.
Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday announced what he described as an expanded initiative and partnership his administration and the Harlem Children’s Zone directed by Geoffrey Canada.
With Canada at his side in Paterson the governor said the initiative will expand to other New Jersey cities a pilot program being developed between New Jersey Community Development Corp., a Paterson-based nonprofit organization, and Harlem Children’s Zone. The program, tagged “Promise Communities,” is described as an attempt to support community-based groups, help schools operate more efficiently, and to break down the “silos of government,” in an attempt to ensure the efficient use of resources to help children.
“The Harlem Children’s Zone has shown consistently the potential that can be unleashed in our children and communities when we move beyond the confines of government,” Christie said. “In doing so, Geoffrey Canada has led HCZ to become a national model of all that can be accomplished when we put the needs of students before the old ways of doing things.
“In partnership with HCZ and the Paterson community, we are moving aggressively to recreate the success of HCZ right here in New Jersey by restructuring and organizing programs that reach across the community under a common goal – improving the lives of children and revitalizing the community,” the governor said.
The announcement of the attempt to expand an effort to help inner-city children comes three weeks after Christie cut all state funding, $3 million, for the NJ After 3 program, which helps schools fund after school programs for children of working parents.
As part of the effort to expand the state-HCZ partnership, the state Office of the Attorney General and Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, will provide assistance to nonprofit community organizations in other cities. Currently, Harlem Children’s Zone partners with nonprofit community organizations in Newark and Camden to provide technical assistance and guidance in coordinating the use of resources and programs inside, outside and across government. The state Department of Education is working with HCZ to identify opportunities to expand the program to other New Jersey cities.
“Fundamentally changing the results we are getting in our country’s most distressed communities means taking a completely different approach to how we are educating and providing services to children and their families,” Canada said. “In New Jersey, Governor Christie has shown a serious commitment to transforming urban education in innovative ways that focus on results, not conventions or past practice.
“I’m pleased to expand our partnership with the governor and his administration, work together to identify other communities in New Jersey where transformation can take hold, and help find ways state government can use its resources to get better results for children across the state,” Canada said.
New Jerseyans may recognize Canada from television commercial in which he describes how the HCZ Project began as a one-block pilot in Harlem in the the 1990s, expanded to 24 blocks, then 60 blocks, and ultimately 97 blocks. The budget for the HCZ Project for fiscal year 2010-11 was over $48 million, costing an average of $5,000 per child.
Promise Communities is designed to create a comprehensive package of solutions to help children, including educational programs and family and community support systems, built around better schools. Program coordinators seek, among others, the participation of state and local governments, local businesses, higher education institutions. The program attempts to significantly improve the educational and developmental outcomes of children, from birth through college and onto a career. The program model emphasizes the need for learning opportunities throughout each day, year, and over the course of a child's life span, as part of a broader neighborhood revitalization strategy.
Christie said HCZ leadership will convene an advisory group, led by Acting Higher Education Secretary Rochelle Hendricks, to deal directly with his administration and provide guidance and recommendations in an attempt to improve inter-agency coordination involving programs benefiting at-risk children.
Currently, New Jersey is the only state that has formed a partnership with Harlem Children’s Zone.
Harlem Children’s Zone’s mission is positive education outcomes for every child through effective schools and community programs, with the final result of graduation from college. The U.S. Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods initiative is premised upon the HCZ model.